A couple of months, I got a call from Jimmy Ferrer at the Diabetes Hands Foundation asking if I would speak at MasterLab this year in Orlando. I was thrilled to get this invitation because for the past several years, I’ve heard about MasterLab but have never had the opportunity to attend. If you’re not familiar, MasterLab is event put on by the Diabetes Hands Foundation to bring diabetes advocates together and give them information, tools, resources and the chance to meet other folks doing similar work, all to support them in their advocacy work. When Jimmy called, I thought he was going to ask me to give a talk on something like diabetes burnout or common behavioral health conditions related to diabetes so advocates could get information on one of these topics from someone who works with people struggling with these issues on a daily basis. That’s not what Jimmy asked though. Instead, he asked me to talk about the importance of self-care for diabetes advocates.
I’ll be honest – when he asked me to talk on self-care, I tried to get out of it. I suggested that I talk broadly about diabetes and mental health and the role that diabetes advocates can play in raising awareness. But Jimmy was persistent. He came back and said he really wanted me to focus on self-care. I agreed to do it, but as I started thinking about what I wanted to say in my talk, it hit home that I’m not always the best at self-care. Giving this talk really made me think about what self-care is and also evaluate how I need to do better. I started looking at my talk not from the perspective of an ‘expert’ who walks the walk, but as a fellow diabetes advocate who sometimes struggles with doing the things I was going to be telling everyone are so important to do. Looking back on it, I truly hope that my talk was helpful for everyone at MasterLab, but I can honestly say that going through the process of preparing for this talk was a great reminder for me that self-care is a journey that takes place on a daily basis, as opposed to a destination where I’ll ‘get’ to someday.
I can’t emphasise enough how important self-care is, and this is especially true for people in an advocacy role. It’s just not possible to serve others if you don’t take care of yourself. And you’re not working at 100%, there is no way that you can work at full capacity to help others. Self-care is never selfish – actually it’s an essential part of serving others. To quote Eleanor Brown, you can’t serve from an empty vessel.
Even though self-care is important, we still come up with lots of excuses. I’m too busy.There are people who need me…I don’t have the money. When people think about self-care, they usually think about things that take time or cost money – things like taking a day off work, going on vacation, getting a massage, going out to eat. Those things can all be part of a good self-care routine. My goal for my talk was to challenge folks to think about how they can incorporate self-care into their lives as diabetes advocates. What this really means is changing the perspective about what self-care means away from discrete activities like massages and vacation and really making it an integral part of your role asa diabetes advocate.
I suggested five ways that diabetes advocates can think about self-care and incorporate into their lives. Instead of thinking about these as things to do, I want people thinking about self-care as a way of being. These are suggestions, not instructions. My hope is that these suggestions get you thinking more broadly about what self-care means to you, and how self-care can support your advocacy work.
Make your story inclusive: Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our advocacy that we start to define ourselves only as advocates (or even people with diabetes) and forget about other things in our lives that we value including relationships, hobbies and all other things non-diabetes. Making advocacy an (big) part of your life is great – making it your whole life, at the exclusion of everything else can get overwhelming and lead to burnout, not to mention make you miss out on a lot of other really cool things. Bottom line is remember, you are more than an advocate. Keep this in mind and it’ll make you a better advocate. I promise!
Spend your time intentionally: As an advocate, it’s easy to get pulled in lots of different directions, and this puts you in danger of having no direction at all. It’s important to spend your time how you want to spend it and in the way that’s going to make you the most effective in your work. This means making some tough decisions and saying no sometimes. Doing this will keep your advocacy focused on your priorities and help keep you from getting stretched too thin.
Watch your thoughts: No matter how hard we all work, there’ll always be more work to do, and you’ll probably think you ‘should’ be doing more and doing better. It’s in our nature as advocates. The problem with this mindset is that it can make us feel like all the work we’re doing isn’t good enough. Remember, you are an advocate so you are already doing fantastic things. If you hear yourself use words like ‘should’ ‘ought’ or ‘must’, check yourself. These are dangerous words that can devalue the awesome things that you’re doing.
Set boundaries: It’s ok to say no. It’s ok not to share personal information. Just because you are an advocate doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have time to yourself or privacy. Decide what you are can do and what you are comfortable doing and sharing, and stick to it without apologizing to anyone, including yourself. You can decide to do and share whatever you want, as long as you are doing it because you genuinely want to and not because you think you should.
Find benefit: We’re all advocates because we know how hard living with diabetes can be, and in our own way we all want to make diabetes easier for others than it was for us. As we go about doing our work, I think it’s also important to remember that even though diabetes is hard, that doesn’t mean that good (or even great) things can’t come out of it – things like friendships, a healthier lifestyle, or even a meaningful career. It’s really easy to to get stuck on the negatives of diabetes, but don’t forget the benefits you have gained from diabetes. Acknowleging the benefits doesn’t mean you have to like it or you can’t hope for a cure someday, but it means that you can find some good in your struggle. It keeps you positive, and a positive attitude is a key part of both being an advocate and caring for yourself.
Now that MasterLab is over, I’m so thankful to Jimmy for pushing me to speak on this topic because it forced me to evaluate how I am doing with my own self-care and what I need to do better. It’s funny because I realized that I was ignoring some of the things I was this I was going to talk about as I was preparing this talk and it made me take a step back. None of us are perfect at self-care. As a diabetes advocate, I am committed to taking steps on a daily basis to improve my self-care…I hope you’ll join me!